When the dealer hands you a lemon — start your log

Dear Car Talk:

How do I “Lemon Law” my 2023 Camry? I bought it brand new.

My problem is the air conditioner’s performance. The system seems to work at random and performs poorly when it does work.

My dealer hasn’t been helpful in trying to solve this problem.

— Rachel in Texas

Lemon laws are state laws, Rachel, so you have to check the specifics of where you live. In Texas, the Lemon Law is less consumer-friendly than in some other states. It’s managed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, rather than the attorney general’s office.

But like in most states, the Lemon Law applies to issues that are covered by warranty, that have not been fixed by a dealer, and that substantially impair the use or market value of the vehicle.

So, if your air conditioning isn’t working in the blazing heat of Texas, that seems to meet the standard of impairing your use of the vehicle —whether you have an updo or not. And it certainly affects the market value of the vehicle if you were to sell it.

When you say the AC doesn’t work sometimes, I’m guessing you mean that it isn’t producing cold air or cold-enough air. That can be measured. There are specifications that Toyota sets for your car. The dealer can stick a thermometer in one of the AC vents and measure the temperature of the conditioned air.

The requirements will vary based on the outside temperature. But say it’s 90 degrees out, the spec may say the cool air should be between, say, 43 and 48 degrees. You can even ask them for the specifications and use your own thermometer and keep a log to bolster your case.

If it’s not meeting the specs, then it’s not working, and you have to give them a “reasonable number” of chances to fix the problem. Be sure that your complaint is noted on each repair order.

Then after, say, four times, if they haven’t fixed it, you can start a Lemon Law claim. If you go to your state’s official Lemon Law site, you can read about the process.

To be honest, Rachel, it’s a pain in the neck. And it’s designed to be a pain in the neck, so it’s only used as a last resort. But if you’ve got the fortitude to see this through and manage to win your case, the manufacturer can be ordered to either replace or buy back your car. Good luck.